“We get to the peak Together, or we don’t get There at all” – Hidden Figures (Film Review)

Stories of the unsung hero are a popular movie trope. They bring the deeds of the obscure to the forefront and celebrate their legacy. Two films nominated for Best Picture at last month’s Oscars were based on real historical figures who performed extraordinary deeds. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures. The latter explores the phenomenal work of the African American women who worked on the NASA space program and their struggle against ignorance and bigotry as they played a major role in the Space Race.

Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) works as a computer at NASA, alongside her friends Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), an aspiring engineer, and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), who performs the role of supervisor but without the title and pay the job should come with. They are but three of many African American women working on the site. Johnson’s skills eventually lead to her being assigned to the Space Task Group under Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) to check the math of the engineers working on the shuttle. The first African American to be part of the team she is continually dismissed by her colleagues, as are Mary and Dorothy. The three combat the bigotry they face in their attempts to realise their goals and help achieve the ultimate feat of sending a man into space.

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Hidden Figures strength is in the incredible deeds of the characters and understated, but powerful, writing. A morally righteous tale of people working through adversity in order to play a major part in something bigger than themselves. Octavia Spencer was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film, but each of the three leading ladies are superb giving spectacular performances. Janelle Monae is wonderfully charming as the feisty Mary Jackson, whilst Taraji P. Henson leads the cast with a fantastically dogmatic display capturing both the vulnerability, and the submerged inner strength, of her character. Costner is effortless in this supporting role, sweeping through scenes with a comfort that derives from his decades of acting experience. Tremendously watchable without ever seeming to demand the screen, he delivers an exceptional supporting performance. Director Melfi also co-wrote the screenplay with Alison Schroeder and their work was deservedly recognised with an Academy Award nomination. The clever writing turns what could be an overly conventional or sentimental tale into an enriching narrative.

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Hidden Figures is well made. It relies not on the superlative but simply lets the incredible deeds of its subjects speak for themselves. Not exorbitant or risqué enough to garner the top prizes yet in it’s quiet formation it acquires an almost silent strength that underpins the film’s messages of tolerance and reminds us of the quiet heroes doing the silent deeds throughout the infinitive tapestry of history.

4/5

Dir: Theodore Melfi

Scr: Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons

Prd: Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Theodore Melfi, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams

DOP: Mandy Walker

Music: Hans Zimmer

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Runtime: 127 Minutes

Hidden Figures is out now in UK cinemas.

 

 

 

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“No one has ever Trained for an Incident like that. No one.”- Sully: Miracle on the Hudson (Film Review)

Did you hear about Rules don’t apply? Don’t worry if you haven’t because it bombed hard in the states so I can’t imagine it getting a wide release here. If you’re not familiar with the title then maybe it’s producer/actor/writer/director Warren Beatty will ring a bell. If you’re over a certain age then Beatty is probably recalled as a once great titan of cinema. A multi-talented throwback to classic Hollywood who has written himself into the history books. Beatty retired in 2001 but was finally lured back to the ring to craft a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood (Which would have been fine if the Coen Bro’s hadn’t done the same exact thing in February with Hail Caesar!). It didn’t go well. As Beatty’s possibly final entry to the pantheon of cinema was being quickly forgotten Clint Eastwood, at the age of 86, released Sully. It’s difficult to stay at the top of your game forever, time catches up to the greatest. Even lovers of a legend such as Stanley Kubrick would tell you that Eyes Wide Shut (his final film, released when he was 70) was mediocrity as directed by a genius. Sully is a really good film, not a classic that will be studied by imitators in years to come, but a well-crafted, brilliant acted, moving piece of cinema.

Biopics are a tricky genre to manage. It’s difficult to adapt a life story to cinema which is why the best biopics will have a specific time of focus (Such as that of Ava DuVernay’s Selma). Sully focuses on a few days in the life of Captain Sullenberger, or more specifically on 208 seconds of his life and the effect that has on him and the world. The structure of the film is well thought out, beginning with the aftermath and making the landing itself the second act. This also serves as the film’s highlight. In a subversion of what you would expect there is an eerie calmness to what his happening. You feel the intensity and the dread but Hanks and Eckhart specifically (in the role of Sully and co-pilot Jeffrey Sazlow) are remarkably relaxed and controlled juxtaposing with our expectation of what such a disaster must feel like. The authenticity of the water-landing and the rescue efforts that followed are without hyperbole and imbued with a sincerity that allows us to connect emotionally with the people involved. Hanks is unsurprisingly great, his natural charm and likeability are often mentioned but it’s important to remember that Hanks is a terrific actor of the greatest calibre, and a hardworking one at that. He is perfectly cast here, alongside Eckhart who isn’t dwindled by the presence of Hanks. He too excels. Eastwood’s economical direction is perfectly suited to the vehicle. We don’t need flashy, exorbitant camera sweeps here. Just a man with the experience to know what we need to see, what we don’t and how long for.

The only blight on Sully is that it’s a film. Someone along the line decided we need an antagonist to oppose Sully and that role is played by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) who investigated the incident. You understand their need to investigate but they are portrayed with an almost laughable amount of aggression culminating in a public hearing at the movie’s climax that goes a little bit too Mr Smith Goes to Washington for my liking, cracking the illusion of authenticity.

If Clint Eastwood should decide he has had enough of filmmaking (Something I doubt) and hangs up his hat, then Sully would be a fine epitaph to a phenomenal career. There are legendary directors with more skill, vision and sheer panache than Eastwood, he’s never prided himself on such attributes. Preferring a workmanlike approach that has worked for him throughout his career. Never more than a few takes for a scene, his camera is still and unnerving to match his stare and he always comes back for more. In the 15 years since Warren Beatty’s retirement Clint Eastwood has directed 13 films and won a couple more Oscars, keeping himself in touch with the ever-evolving language of cinema. Whilst Beatty’s accomplishments are undoubtedly written into the history of film Eastwood just keeps on writing. Time catches up to all of us they say, but if it has caught up to Clint Eastwood then he just told it to piss off, he’s got a movie to make.

4/5

Dir: Clint Eastwood

Scr: Todd Komarnicki

Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn,

Prd: Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Allyn Stewart, Tim Moore

DOP: Tom Stern

Music: Christian Jacob, The Tierney Sutton band

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run Time: 96 minutes